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Would-be tax hikers have three days left

There are three days left.

Not until the end of the session; there are still 12 days before we hit the constitutional deadline.

There are only three days left if Democrats still hold out hope of passing new taxes and overriding Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto. If a tax bill isn’t passed by both Senate and Assembly and delivered to the governor by Friday, there won’t be enough time before the end of the session — with Sundays and holidays — to pass a tax.

Then again, the chances of doing that are looking more and more distant.

Although Democrats had pushed for a $1.2 billion package that includes extending taxes set to expire in July; a new sales tax on services; and a franchise tax on business income, even the most pro-tax members have begun to acknowledge that package is dead.

As a compromise, Democrats are offering to make ugly cuts to already-approved budgets for K-12 schools, the Nevada System of Higher Education and health and human services, in exchange for extending only the “sunsetting” taxes. It would still require a two-thirds vote in both Senate and Assembly, and Sandoval would surely veto, but the plan wouldn’t cause as much pain as the governor’s budget.

The problem is, compromise on the Republican side is in short supply. On Tuesday, state Senate Republicans met with Sandoval in the morning, and in the afternoon released a letter signed by all members pledging — once more — to not vote for taxes, even just the sunsetting taxes.

“It is time for every level of government to accept our current economic reality,” the letter reads. “We cannot ask the citizens of this state, in a time when we lead the nation in unemployment, to pay more in taxes. They don’t have it.

“We have had plenty of time to thoughtfully prioritize spending and live within our means,” the letter continues. “There is no reason to continue crafting a budget that state revenue cannot support. We should not have to wait until an unbalanced budget is vetoed; we should pass a balanced one now.”

That was also Sandoval’s message: “They have a budget they can pass right now,” the governor said, after his morning meeting with Senate Republicans.

But at least some Democrats refuse to pass the governor’s budget. One of them is Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who says extending the sunset taxes would cost the average Nevada business less than $6,000 per year; the average visitor $1.36 per trip and the average Nevada household $88 per year. Failing to extend them, he says, constitutes a tax break for gambling, mining and corporations at the expense of schoolchildren and sick people.

“I will not vote to destroy our children’s future by passing the governor’s budget as proposed,” Horsford said. “It’s about not betraying our children and their future.”

But not everyone agrees. On Tuesday, a rift began to appear in the Assembly Democratic caucus, with some urging passing the governor’s budget, blaming the resulting pain on Sandoval, and trying to persuade voters to pass a tax plan on the ballot. But other Democrats, including freshman members, aren’t quite ready to give up yet, knowing they’d have to embrace a budget that most of them consider repugnant. A joint meeting of the Senate Finance/Assembly Ways & Means committees that was supposed to start at 8 a.m. Tuesday to review and approve new education and health-care budgets still had not begun late in the afternoon because of the dispute.

But no matter how the Democrats decide to proceed, there’s no question about when they have to act. And they have just three days left.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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